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University students balk at bus fare hikes

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University student union representatives say they may have to reconsider a transit pass for students if the Region of Waterloo won’t limit fare hikes to the consumer price index.

At a regional budget input meeting this week, Adam Garcia, vice-president of education at the University of Waterloo Federation of Students, said rate increases for the U-Pass are unaffordable.

He said annual fee hikes should not exceed the consumer price index.

If that demand is not be met, “it would be incumbent upon us as representatives of the undergrad students who are looking to keep things affordable for them, to be exploring a variety of options,” Garcia said.

“This could include a recommendation to not continue to participate in the program which could lead to an actual reduction in the revenues that GRT is receiving as immediately as the upcoming fall.”

All Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo students pay a fee of about $72.23 per four-month term to use Grand River Transit. By comparison, an adult monthly pass costs $72 per month ($288 for four months) and Conestoga College students pay $204 per term.

“When we did negotiate the last contract, there were projections already for rate hikes — they were not unknown, they were part of the plan,” Regional Chair Ken Seiling said.

He said student concerns will be considered during negotiations in 2015.

“We’ll take a look at the cost of providing the service, and then they have to weigh what’s important to them and we’ll weigh what’s important to us,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll come to some solution, but at the end of the day there’s a significant number of university students who are using this on a regular basis.”

Prior to 2012, increases to the cost of a pass equalled the Ontario consumer price index, according to a regional report.

In 2012, regional council approved a business plan for Grand River Transit that increases U-Pass rates to equal the same cost recovery as other fares. After that, fees would increase each year by the average of any increase to the rest of the fare structure.

In 2011, U-pass ridership represented 26 per cent of total ridership, according to the region.

Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig questioned the optics of providing the U-Pass to university students at a rate well below the amount Conestoga College students pay.

“I think it’s sending the wrong message publicly about who gets it and who doesn’t,” Craig said.

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